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The Life of an Author: On the Day After

Yesterday, I wrote about my experience trying to sell Beneath the Red Sun, and in particular, being dumped by my agent.

It isn't a good experience, no matter how you spin it. There's nothing good in being told that someone doesn't want to represent your work, sorry for not letting you know earlier, no goodbye, just as there is nothing good in being told your partner doesn't want to be in a relationship with you anymore. It's all bad news, and for a while, yeah, you feel kind of shitty about it. I admit, I felt sorry for myself. It was good. I indulged in a minor array of moments in which I assured myself I had made mistakes, that it was my fault, that I would never amount to anything. You've all been there. I've been there before. It's part of the whole experience of getting bad news. I may have also spent some time discussing the unprofessional nature of publishing, and I may have thought many uncharitable things. At the end of it, though, there has to be a shrug, a whatever, and a choice made about what you're going to do.

In my case, I sat back and looked at my world of literature, and decided I wasn't doing to bad.

I had a book released at the start of the year through Twelfth Planet Press, Above/Below. People have liked it, and gelled with what was attempted with the format of the book, and the story that Steph Campisi and I presented. I sold a short story collection, Dead Americans, to ChiZine Publications, which I'm pretty excited about, as CP do very nice looking books. I have a short story being reprinted in a Year's Best anthology and an excerpt from Black Sheep is being reprinted in German education books.

It is, as I said, not bad.

Now, other people, they would look at that, and there will be some who don't think it is much; and there will be others who look at it and think that it's heaps; and there will be me, who will note that it could be better and it could be worse, but either way, there isn't much money involved, but that's okay. I'm still writing, still creating, and the truth about money in literature is that there are ways to make it easily, and ways to make it difficultly, and the way I have elected to try and make money is the latter. My business is art, and art is my business: I create the art that interests me, that I believe in, that appeals to me and rewards me intellectually and emotionally, and afterward, I try and sell it. I try and sell it smartly, I try and sell it well. You can argue how successful I am at that or not, but regardless, I do attempt to be intelligent about the choices I make. I don't, however, try and make my business writing, wherein I will take on any gig to get by, and write work for hire, copy, and everything else that a writer can do to make ends. To pay my bills I teach. I would rather pay my bills with my art, but therein lies the struggle.

What that means is that yesterday, I lost a business opportunity. The small and large of it is that I lost someone who can knock on doors I can't, who can sell my work where I can't, and who will help me grow in terms of audience of opportunities that I have. I did not lose my art. Sure, being dumped by your agent, having to deal with that issue to begin with, having to door knock and query and all of that, it does get in the way of you creating. There are times when you don't work because emotionally it's not in you. There are times when you just don't have the time. But regardless, when you step back from events, you have to be able to put it into perspective, and to acknowledge the things that you do have, and the things that you do not.

Quite often, this is the most difficult thing for an artist to do after hearing bad news. I know more than one person who has become embittered by the process, who has left the field of creation and moved elsewhere. I even know people who think I am nothing but a fool for continuing after such events. Hell, perhaps you, who is reading this, perhaps you think that as well. But then, maybe you don't. Who knows. The truth is, after bad news, you either step back and see the broader picture, or you don't, and you make your choices in regard to however you feel about it. Me, I spent some time last year thinking I ought to give this up--I made a deal with myself that by the time I was thirty-five, if I had not made a decent chunk of cash, it would be time to go and make money properly. There's a lot of ways to do that. I have a background where I could go and make money that isn't the soup and bones that is the cash I make from teaching. But, in truth, there is no joy in doing that, and as I spent a chunk of last year getting my shit together, putting the world into perspective, and reconnecting with the things that made me love writing in the first place, I realised I wasn't changing anything, regardless of my age.

Yesterday sucked, I know that. But it's the next day and, while a business opportunity is gone, all the art that I created and which opened that door, remains, and it remains in me.

And that, I believe, is the important part.

Comments

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ext_321912
Jun. 7th, 2011 08:47 am (UTC)
Forgive me for knowing next to nothing about getting published.

How do you know your agent was doing anything for you? Do you get reports of ho they may have talked to? Who they have shopped your work around to?

It strikes me that if an agent (and I am not saying this is the case in this instance)isn't doing anything for you, then your not really missing a business opportunity but instead freeing your work up.
benpeek
Jun. 7th, 2011 09:02 am (UTC)
yeah, your agent lets you know who they sent it to. in my case, i stopped hearing anything, which can mean a number of things. either, a) they were unable to get replies, b) lost interest, or c) something else.

i am attempting to find out who my agent did or did not hear from with this book, but she's not being very forthcoming, and it is, sadly, hard to go to an agent and say, 'yes, my previous agent before sent it out...' since they view it (rightly) as a product that has a narrower market than if they had gotten it first off.
ext_321912
Jun. 7th, 2011 09:15 am (UTC)
I happen to be reviewing two books by an author who self published the first and is now with Orbit. Do you think that is an avenue?

I have been following Derek at http://derekjcanyon.blogspot.com/ he's posted quite openly on how he has gone about self publishing, inlc breakdowns on what he's spent where he's advertised. It involved money up front but he seems to be going really well and it strikes me that the genre he's chosen is somewhat limiting. He's also not as gung ho and anti trad. publishing as some others.
benpeek
Jun. 7th, 2011 09:27 am (UTC)
the problem with self publishing, at least at the moment for me, is the upfront cost. i don't have the cash to do it properly. i have the cash to do it badly, mind you, but not properly--and to do it properly i'd need an editor, a cover artist, and to put in for promotional parts.

self publishing isn't off the table for me. i like the idea of being in control of my work from the ground up, but, right now, i don't have the capital to do it properly, and in the end i lean back to that. and, in addition, i would have to learn a lot more about the production side of books first to do it.

in addition, the one thing i think you lose through self publishing (outside the ability to connect with people in the industry to promote it) is that good relationship with an editor and publisher, in which all of you work to make a book good. there's a lot of complaining about agents and editors and publishers, but the truth is, the best of them work with you to make a better book, to give you perspective, to question you, to force you to extend yourself. going down your own road loses that, for better or for worse.
benpeek
Jun. 7th, 2011 09:31 am (UTC)
also, and i don't know if this is entirely true or not, but it seems to me that the successful ebook people write very quickly. a lot of them talk about putting out two to three books in half a year--there was one i saw who said she wrote one in three weeks.

it takes me a year at the very least to write a book. if the business model for ebook success does rely upon that kind of speed, i am sadly, not that kind of writer...
catsparx
Jun. 7th, 2011 08:47 am (UTC)
Amen to that! But it's so tough to keep getting back on that horse. I wish you well with the continuing adventures and misadventures of your art.
benpeek
Jun. 7th, 2011 09:03 am (UTC)
yeah, it is kind of suck to get back on it all the time. but what other choice is there? maybe eventually there'll be another, but until then.
ashamel
Jun. 7th, 2011 09:19 am (UTC)
And long may you write.

I gave up upon getting published -- I'm just weird like that, apparently.
benpeek
Jun. 7th, 2011 09:27 am (UTC)
ta man

yeah, you are. you gave up the fame, the women, the power...
ashamel
Jun. 8th, 2011 12:25 am (UTC)
It did take three years of trying -- at the end of which I couldn't even read a book, let alone write one.

I do realise that three years is but an instant when it comes to getting noticed by publishers (or even versus the previous 18 years I'd been writing), but there is a difference between not getting anyone to read your work, and not being able to produce anything to read.

At least I can find a hole in a wall of hurricanes. Or not.
benpeek
Jun. 9th, 2011 05:55 am (UTC)
or not ;)

(fortunately, we just have to burn things for a bit)

you know, i reckon the balance for writing is you got to keep what it is that you love while also doing the business side. it's not always shiny and easy, really.
cassiphone
Jun. 7th, 2011 09:52 am (UTC)
Sorry to hear your news! These things just plain suck. All we can do ultimately is look towards the next book, and the next book, and wait for the one that's going to stick to the ceiling.

I really admire your attitude in dealing with this, hopefully it will turn out to be a minor knockdown along the way.
benpeek
Jun. 7th, 2011 10:56 am (UTC)
thanks, tansy.

i guess there's no real other way to deal with it, in the end. it either turns out to be a minor setback, or it is a bigger one, but either way, you just got to get past it and put it in the proper perspective.
ataxi
Jun. 7th, 2011 11:25 am (UTC)
Good luck mate.

That nonsense about "by 35" you told yourself was just the excuse you made up last time you did exactly what you wanted to do. Perhaps this time there's no excuse needed?
benpeek
Jun. 9th, 2011 05:53 am (UTC)
well, no. it was more a financial by thirty five thing. i thought there was a reasonable time limit to put on living on a low income, but it seems not, so long as you got a bit of faith, huh?
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